SPACES Housewarming   01.18.17

A few days ago we opened our doors to the public, during Spaces to SPACES: A Roving Housewarming. With over 600 guests in attendance during Saturday night's party, some of the speeches got lost. Artist and SPACES grand opening planning committee member, Julia Christensen, gave a moving speech that illustrates the impact SPACES has had on artists since the beginning. Here it is:

SPACES began in 1978 when a group of artists came together to establish a space for experimental, interdisciplinary, collaborative, cutting edge art and performance, creating the space for that work to be exhibited in a gallery setting. It is said that there were 35 people at that first gathering.

And here we are, a gathering of people coming together to establish a NEW space for the exhibition of contemporary artwork, in the name of SPACES. At that first gathering there were 35 people in attendance, and tonight, we sold over 600 tickets. Which goes to show how absolutely integral SPACES is to this community. A not-for-profit gallery, an artist-centered gallery, an accessible space that supports a thriving arts community. A space that is by and for artists. SPACES is as crucial as it ever, 4 buildings later, 5 directors later. I've been lucky enough to work with a couple of these directors--Chris Lynn, who is here with us tonight, and how can we not also raise another glass to the gifted leadership of Christina Vassallo, the woman who brought us through these doors tonight.

When SPACES began in the late 70's, those pioneering artists were interested in making room for new interdisciplinary forms and mediums that were not yet supported by traditional institutions. This continues to evolve in the art world, and it is crucial to have spaces that weigh the practices and processes of artists above the market, and above fashion. I look out at the audience here tonight, and I see so many friends, artists that are working to push the envelope of what the art world can handle. We make work that transcends discipline, we make work about contemporary questions and current events. And given our current current events, artists––and the public––need spaces like SPACES more than ever. SPACES makes the tools, the platform, and the megaphone accessible, so that this work is seen and heard here in Cleveland; meanwhile SPACES does real work that connects Cleveland with national and international arts dialogs. With the opening of this new building, that presence will be amplified, which is great for Cleveland, and great for SPACES---and what is good for SPACES, is good for artists.

I read recently that SPACES has had the same phone number since it prepared that first exhibition in 1978. In a digital age when nobody even knows anybody's phone numbers anymore, when galleries come and go and are constantly bought and sold, there is some kind of real truth in that. Truth about loyalty, truth about dedication, and truth about community. And I think you will all agree with me when I say-these days we need all the truth we can get!

Thank you SPACES for your dedication to us, to the artists! We are working to blaze new directions with you. And we, the artists, in turn are here to support you. A building is made of bricks, but A SPACE is made of THIS! Thanks!!

Image courtesy Kristian Campana
Image courtesy Kristian Campana

Author: Christina Vassallo, Executive Director
Category: History

In Memory of Jane Farver   05.01.15

SPACES mourns the loss of Jane Farver, our dear friend, former Executive Director (1982 - 85) and Board Member (1979 - 85). Susan Channing shared a few words about Jane, which we lovingly post here:

Word of Jane Farver's innovations at SPACES reached me before I moved to Cleveland with my family from Philadelphia in 1985. Although she and John had already left for New York, the energy SPACES radiated clearly bore her mark.

Aligned with SPACES since its infancy, Jane ignited the spark for artists that the community needed. It was there that she cut her teeth, believing in and working with artists. Just as Jane launched artists in Cleveland, SPACES provided a springboard for her own international career.

Jane inspired a group of young CIA graduates to create the legendary benefit Eat at Art's. They invented, constructed, and staffed it because they believed in her and SPACES' focus on artists. Jane and the same artists went on to organize The Domo Project-an artist-designed and created urban living space more inventive than any exhibition I had seen before. What a fantastic introduction to Cleveland!

Though Jane was a daunting act to follow, I was privileged to continue the artist-run space she and the board had begun. Throughout my tenure, Jane and I talked many times, and I will always miss her quick, acerbic wit, empathy for artists, and disdain for equivocation. Her leadership of SPACES inspired all of us who followed her.

- SPACES staff and friends

SPACES Board Members and Executive Directors, past & present
SPACES Board Members and Executive Directors, past & present

Author: Marilyn Ladd-Simmons, Gallery Manager
Category: History

Sound Art 101   05.28.14

We at SPACES are a little intimidated by The Vault guest curator Christopher Auerbach-Brown's cunning wit and musical genius. So, we asked him to break it down and tell us what we should be listening for in the upcoming selection of sound art, Apopheny - Epiphany: What is Random?

Sound Art 101 by Christopher Auerbach-Brown
Sound art (or Audio art, or whatever you want to call it) is, strangely enough, a genre often practiced by...visual artists. This may seem odd at first – after all, don't musicians reign over the world of sound? – so the purpose of this introduction is to explain this quirk while hopefully giving the listener a framework from which to delve into The Vault exhibition.

First, defining sound art is tricky, because it can also be heard as music. But one distinguishing characteristic of sound art is that it simply does not present itself in a normal musical manner. Typically, there are no melodies, no drum beats, no lyrics, no chord changes, no shredding guitar solos. Instead, sound artists utilize any and all sounds as raw ingredients, much like a sculptor shapes his or her materials to gradually 'reveal' their final sculpture. Musicians who double as sound artists often speak of "letting go" of their musical background, "breaking new ground" or "starting over" when working in this medium.

Next, works of sound art are often site-specific in nature. In order to fully appreciate these types of pieces, you need to experience them in the locale for which they are intended. Physically displacing them by listening with earbuds or on a home stereo system ultimately causes the listener to miss out on certain nuances of the work in question.

Given this information, how does one ready him- or herself to listen? It's simple.

Let go.

Wipe the slate clean.

Push aside any preconceptions or assumptions of what it is you will hear.

Now, let the materials and sounds transport you to a new place. The journey has many twists and turns, but the 'sonic path' will reveal itself through patient listening and observation. You will develop your own set of listening guidelines, to be kept secret or shared with others, if you like. But don't worry – it's all there, if you open your ears and mind. Stick with it for at least five to ten minutes. You may become a tad impatient at first, but once you work through this initial mental barrier, your brain will become more susceptible to the content of this exhibition.

Or, to quote John Cage:
"nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by hearing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by playing a piece of music
our ears are now in excellent condition."

Cheers to a fruitful adventure...

Author: Christina Vassallo, Executive Director
Category: History

SPACES' History: Part II   02.15.12

Note: This text is taken from William Busta's essay in SPACES' 20th anniversary catalog, Howling at the Edge of a Renaissance: SPACES and Alternative Art in Cleveland. It will be republished here on our blog in parts over the next few weeks.

This is Part II, please begin with Part I:

The Winds of Change (Part II)

Aeolus was selected as the name of the organization after Rosenberger invoked both chance and the philosophy of the I Ching (also known as The Book of Change) by casting coins. In the text for the Hexagram that he case was "the winds of change." Aeolus was the Greek god of the winds. On January 30, 1978 Aeolus was registered as a non-profit, educational organization with the State of Ohio. The room on the second floor was designated as "a space" ("a" for "art"), and the room on the third "p space" ("p" for "performance"). For a time, reflecting the interests of Rosenberger and Mihaly respectively, "video space" and a ceramic facility were contemplated.

At first, the programming investigated possibilities that were unlikely, if not impossible elsewhere in the region. The first season included 7/8/78 Scratch Music, "1 hour of unrelated activities by a group of artists sharing the same space and time;" Death and the Last Cleveland Performance, "live video presentation of performance, movement, film, electronic music, and environmental works;" and Open Gallery, "a succession of short-term performance works, installations, works in progress, and spectator-participation works, including movement with visual elements."

Perhaps the most significant development of the first year was not the art that was produced or observed, by the integration of artists from Kent State University—both teachers and graduate students—into the Cleveland art community. It is a presumption today that when we speak of a local artist, that the artist might live in Youngstown, Oberlin, Kent, Akron, or Ashland. In the 1970s, this was not true.

For some time previous, in the artist (as well as other aspects of society and culture), the geographical sense of Cleveland (or what came to be called "Greater Cleveland," "the Cleveland Metropolitan Area," and, finally, "Northeast Ohio") had been changing. The personal automobile and an expanded, intensive high-speed highway system were responsible.

For example, the annual May Show of regional art at the Cleveland Museum of Art was limited to artists living in Cuyahoga County until 1961, when it opened up to all counties of the Western Reserve region of Ohio. In the previous decade the Ohio Turnpike had linked those counties. The distance of Cleveland from Kent and Akron shortened remarkably, too (distance being a function of time), as northeast Ohio's Interstate network neared completion in the 1970s. For the arts this meant that more people had faster access to the cultural core of Cleveland.

As Rosenberger cast widely in his search for artists to participate in his vision, a space became the first visual arts organization in Cleveland to actively recruit artists from Kent. Kevin Hogan and Rob Mihaly (who had an M.F.A. from Kent) coaxed Craig Lucas, who was then (in his own characterization) an "eager, young faculty member." As these artists became involved, so did others, and the trip to Cleveland became familiar.

As programming began, funding became an increasing concern. In one concept document, the organization was conceived as a collective of seven working artists, each of whom would contribute $1,000 to get this started. That plan fell apart, Rosenberger explains, because "none of us had $1,000." Immediate needs were eased by renting small rooms on the edges of both p space and a space as studios. In addition to income, this met programming objectives by encouraging interaction by artists with each other and with activity within the spaces. These artists included Mihaly, Jeffry Chiplis (Trustee 1980-present); Image Resource Center Director Warren Crain; photographer Jerry Nesnadny; painter Paula Scherba; and Theater Bridge Director Will Grant. Both Crain and Grant, in effect, lived in their studios. Membership in a nearby fitness club provided access to hygienic facilities. Actually, it all worked, maintaining an incredible charge of creativity even if, at times, the social interactions resembled the melodrama of a Melrose Place.

However true to mission, these studios did not provide enough income to operate an arts facility. With fortune, Peter Galvin had rented offices to the Cleveland Area Arts Council nearby. James Rosenberger credits Nina Gibans, then Council Director and Ric Wanetik, on her staff (currently President of the Board of the Wexner Center Foundation, Columbus, Ohio) with extensive tutoring on the ins and outs of fundraising and the ups and downs of maintaining a non-profit organization. Consequently, early approaches to the Ohio Arts Council brought success.

Since so much of Aeolus relied upon links that Rosenberger had forged between individuals and with other arts organizations, it was a considerable shock when he announced in early 1979 that he was leaving both the Board of Trustees and Cleveland—he had accepted a position with the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati (an offer that came because of his success at launching Aeolus). In short, he and his wife had a new child and they needed a steady income—a patch of part time jobs were not enough.

Rosenberger told Trustees that it was time to find a new name because "a space" and "p space" were projects that he initiated (they were registered by his video production company, Art Space Productions, as a trademark), and he felt that as the organization came together without him it was an opportunity to establish a unified identity.

Rosenberger recalls, "It never occurred to me that this would ever grow beyond an intimate circle of friends. ...I think it was Kevin [Hogan] who said, 'Why don't we call it SPACES.'" Rob Mihaly remembers naming it too. Other names suggested were "nderland," "Alternative Space," and "Exploding Dog." At the time, SPACES had 24 members.

If Rosenberger had brought an alternative space to Cleveland, he had also brought a specific vision. When he left, it wasn't just that SPACES was without a rudder, but it was even in dispute whether anyone needed to steer. What was obvious and essential though, was that someone needed to unlock the doors and turn on the lights during posted open hours. Rob Mihaly became President of the Board of Trustees, and in effect, the volunteer Gallery Manager.

The organization had been shifting. The intersection of visual arts and theater in a collaborative process seemed more a liaison than a marriage. In a Board meeting that spring, the discussion ranged about SPACES' identity. A consensus favored the current tack, in which a variety of programming made it difficult to perceive a specific identity. The minutes of the Board expressed regret that what was imagined as "alternative art forms and interdisciplinary work" did not draw enough "energy" to meet the programming needs. So, SPACES became open to, and welcomed, exhibitions "in a rather conventional format" too.

Robert Mihaly's position within SPACES changed significantly. AT a meeting in October 1979 Mihaly was "elected" to the position of Director, conceived as a half-time position, paying $6,000 per year. The position began effective January 1, 1980. Immediately there were discussions with the Cleveland Foundation (the largest grantor in northeast Ohio) concerning whether it was appropriate for the Board President to hold a paid position. While SPACES resisted, "believing that its "philosophy of government was unique," in June Mihaly resigned as President.

What was happening, of course, was that SPACES, conceived of as an "intimate circle of friends," was being encouraged to become an institution. The carrot was funding, dangled by private foundations and government sources (such as the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts) alike. The written and unwritten requirements—such as incorporation, audits, grant writing and reports, a broadly-based Board of Trustees—slowly became integrated into SPACES' operations, although delayed somewhat by a stubborn residual idealism.

The issue was survival. A collective of artists is ephemeral, functioning, at best, for a few years. On the other hand, personality-centered organizations can last decades, dominated by an iron will. For SPACES, neither of these options was attractive—its vision was to serve a continuing, rather than an ephemeral, need and it wished to retain collective programming. For the next decade it struggled to find its own path. While some who have been involved shudder at how SPACES has become "established," its genius has been to adapt to the forms and protocols of an institution while maintaining its core culture.

<em>A Map: the Dull Seque</em>l, by Derf, 1998
A Map: the Dull Sequel, by Derf, 1998

Keywords: history, spaces
Author: Christopher Lynn, Executive Director
Category: History

SPACES' History: Part I   02.08.12

Note: This text is taken from William Busta's essay in SPACES' 20th anniversary catalog, Howling at the Edge of a Renaissance: SPACES and Alternative Art in Cleveland. It will be republished here on our blog in parts over the next few weeks.

The Winds of Change

In the spring of 1978, a number of Cleveland artists received an invitation. Though pecked out on a typewriter, with staggered lines creating slight visual interest, and on unremarkable paper it is still an extraordinary document. Simple, direct, sincere, and modestly ambitious, it asks artists to walk into a new arts organization and immediately become participants in its programming process. There was a careful word choice-these were not meetings they were called gatherings. This choice presumes the reality of a community of artists and it also presumes a benefit from that community's assembling and discussing issues and ideas of common interest. If one needs to pinpoint a single birth moment for SPACES, the best argument could be made for that casual event, on May 25, 1978. Perhaps 35 people attended.

In the following month, on June 20, the new organization presented its first program—Crackers (considered "the first video/theater performance in the Greater Cleveland area"). On October 13 it opened its first exhibition. Much has changed since, through four locations and three Directors, by there have been two constants—the telephone number and this sense of mission.

But that moment of birth was not really the beginning of SPACES: it marked the end of the beginning. In a sense, it began as a twinkle in the eye of James Rosenberger as the Ohio native was earning an M.F.A. in Theater at York University in Toronto, Canada. While a student, he had the privilege to work with John Cage (the avant-garde composer who suggested that we hear all sound as music and whi championed the opportunities of change). In Toronto, Rosenberger enjoyed "A Space," a place that was programmed by artists and that presented alternative approaches to art activity.

After graduation in 1976, Rosenberger looked for a city to begin his artistic career. Cleveland was less intimidating than New York or Chicago, was relatively close (but not too close) to family, and was the current residence of his childhood friend, Christopher McCracken. A job at Karamu House and the offer to teach pert-time in the Theater Department at Cleveland State University affirmed his decision.

With personal drive to launch a career, Rosenberger looked for a vehicle within which he could explore his potential as an artist. Since his idea was not individual genius creating in an isolated cell but the energy and possibilities generated by meeting and action, he looked first at existing arts organizations in Cleveland. After a glance, he decided to start his own.

Given the times, and given the place, this was common. Much has been made of a "Cleveland Renaissance" in the 1990s, with a focus on professional sports facilities as well as anchor attractions. But a Renaissance in Cleveland's arts preceded it by two decades. It seemed as if new institutions were sprouting (and withering) all the time. […] With more enthusiasm and passion than attention to financial prudence or to Cleveland's social strata, it was a fertile time for the formation of community-based organizations that worked to engage new audiences.

[Rosenberg's] vision did not anticipate an institution. Rather, he intended a crucible for artistic activity. Reminiscent of the movie, Field of Dreams, Rosenberger's attitude seemed to be, "If you build it, they will come." First he gathered a small circle of enthusiasts. He met Patsy Whitlow while clerking at the camera counter in a department store. He sold her a camera and, too, on the idea of an alternative art space. With a Master's degree in Business Administration, she provided management advice. Rosenberger's friend McCracken, by then a lawyer, provided a legal structure. Marianne Doezema, employed in the Education Department of the Cleveland Museum of Art, raised professional expectations and connected with younger staff at the Museum, such as Jane Farver and John L. Moore.

Rosenberger linked with a theater company that had an option on a building on West 9th Street next to a gay bath house. He discussed renting part of the building and perhaps becoming partners in a purchase. To stir interest, he announced an open house. Rob Mihaly had briefly met Rosenberger before, at NOVA's offices. (Among other activity as a ceramic artist and teacher, Mihaly was chair of NOVA's "Artist's Rights" committee.) Mihaly, curious, glanced around at the open house and started out the door, reserving judgement. Rosenberger stopped him at the threshold, drew him back in and sold him on the concept. Also at that open house was Melissa J. Craig (a.k.a. May Midwest, linchpin of the guerrilla art group Regional Art Terrorists) who walked in and out too—Rosenberger missed the grab. To Craig, Rosenberger's enterprise seemed too structured. She would become involved with SPACES, but years later, when both had changed.

Rosenberger also advertised in Scene magazine, soliciting for participants/partners in creating a performance/exhibition space. Kevin Hogan, a graduate student at Kent State University and former gallery manager at NOVA, responded. He was attracted because he was "interested in performance/action and there really wasn't a place to do that sort of thing." There wasn't. While the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art (founded as The New Gallery in 1968) energetically worked to introduce audiences in greater Cleveland to the breadth of contemporary art, for northern Ohio artists it was primarily a place to see rather than to do. And there were no galleries—commercial or educational—that encouraged the region's artists to experiment.

The package that would have enabled opening in what would become "the Warehouse District," on West 9th Street, collapsed after the theater company was unable to assemble the resources to exercise its option. Traxx, a gay bar, concluded a lease instead. Whitlow introduced Rosenberger to Peter Galvin, the President of Cragin, Lang, Free and Smythe, a major Cleveland real estate brokerage. Galvin offered a generous lease in the One Playhouse Square building at 1375 Euclid Avenue. For the first eighteen months no rent was due, then a nominal rent for a period of time.

It would not have been a choice for an organization with a bank balance. The gallery area was on the second floor and was awkward to find once one left the elevator; the performance area was on the third floor for security a doorman had to be hired for evening events and other times when the building was not ordinarily open; and while the building management made some changes to make the area for the gallery more usable, it needed considerable work before it was ready to host exhibitions. To Rosenberger, Mihaly, Whitlow, and McCracken it was a golden opportunity. A contribution of $1000 by Patsy Whitlow's father gave them a bank balance, and these art entrepreneurs began cajoling discount and free services and materials from friends, acquaintances, and (as they perfected technique) from strangers.

Continue the gripping saga:
Part II

Invitation to First Gathering, 1978
Invitation to First Gathering, 1978

Keywords: history, spaces
Author: Christopher Lynn, Executive Director
Category: History

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